Gangtok – the cleanest Hill Station
Gangtok is the capital city of Sikkim and one of the most beautiful hill stations of the east. Gangtok is located at an altitude of 5,410 ft in East-Sikkim. The name Gangtok literally means the ‘Top of the Ridge’. It spreads over a forested mountain that faces the snow-clad Kanchenjunga peaks. There are many vantage points in and around Gangtok from where you can get magnificent views of Kanchenjunga and other Himalayan ranges. The city definitely offers a great sight to all its visitors.
The heart of Gangtok is the M.G. Marg that has been converted into a long stretch of open road and a mall area. It’s a pedestrian-only zone and vehicles are not allowed here. On top of that, this place is litter free and smoke-free zone and has many glittering shops, restaurants and bars lined up on both sides. In the evening, the entire place is well lit with lights and makes for a wonderful sight. It is a great place to hang around for a while and experience the bustling carnival like atmosphere. M.G. Marg also has some quaint cafes and restaurants. Tibetan cuisines like momos and thukpas are some of the best dishes that you will get at Gangtok.
Gangtok has a plethora of activities where you can immerse yourself in. For local sightseeing, there are 3-point tours for a half day and 7-point tour and 10-point tour for full day available. You can hire a cab from the M.G. Marg area and go on for the local sightseeing. There are many historical monasteries in an around Gangtok and monastery hopping should keep you busy during your first day.
From Gangtok, you can also take a day-long trip to Tsomgo Lake (locally called Changu Lake), Baba Mandir and the Nathula Pass. Tsomgo Lake is a high altitude lake considered sacred among the people of Sikkim. Gangtok holds promise for the adventure seekers as well. Paragliding has been introduced in Gangtok by Sikkim tourism and flying high over the landscape of Gangtok gives an ultimate thrill. You can also go for zip-lining in Gangtok.
The nearest airport to Gangtok is Bagdogra in West Bengal. Gangtok’s only airport at Pakyong will be operational soon. Once operational, Gangtok will be connected to other cities by air. This is going to boost the tourism in Sikkim. The nearest railway station is at New Jalpaiguri in West Bengal. You have to reach Gangtok from NJP or Bagdogra by road, the distance being around 120 km taking about 4 to 5 hours to reach.
Experiences not to be missed at Gangtok
The Rumtek Monastery is the most famous in Gangtok and is located 23 km away from the Gangtok city. The Rumtek monastery is one of the largest in Sikkim and belongs to the Kargyu sect of Buddhists that originated in the 12th century in Tibet. The architecture of the monastery is one of the finest in the world and resembles the original one in Tsurphu, Tibet. Situated on a hill-top, you can see an amazing view of the Gangtok town from the monastery. The monastery has a rare collection of Tibetan artwork, relics and thangkas. The main building of the Rumtek monastery is three-storeyed. It houses some of the rarest Buddhist religious artwork in the form of wall murals, silk paintings and thangkas (scrolls with intricate hand paintings), 1001 miniature golden models of Buddha and many more.
Situated on the northern outskirts of the city, Enchey monastery literally means ‘the solitary temple’. The small Buddhist monastery is surrounded by pines and conifers that enhance the beauty and serenity of the place even more. The monastery is almost 200 years old and was rebuilt in 1908 by the 10th King of Sikkim. During that time, the monastery was renovated in the style of the Chinese pagoda. Entrance to the main shrine depicts the Kings of four cardinal directions that protect the monastery and the universe. There are other buildings here for junior monks. The monastery is open for visitors everyday between 6 AM to 4 PM.
The monastery is situated at Nathula-Gangtok road. You can hire a taxi from Gangtok and reach Enchey Monastery in 15 to 20 minutes. You can also cover the distance by walking taking the help of locals for directions.
Lingdum Monastery or Ranka Monastery is situated around 20 km from Gangtok city. Lying across a vast area, the monastery is said to be the most beautiful one in East Sikkim. With forested mountain all around the monastery, the place has unparalleled scenic beauty. Here you do not have to walk uphill to reach the monastery. As you enter through the gates, you will come across a huge courtyard surrounded by a two-storeyed building. There is a stairway that will lead to the upper level where the inner sanctum is located. At the prayer room, there is a huge golden statue of Lord Buddha. The walls are adorned with intricate paintings and beautiful thangkas.
Tsomgo Lake or Changu Lake (as it is locally called) is an oval-shaped beautiful glacial lake situated at an altitude of 12310 ft. The lake is located about 35kms from Gangtok and takes about 2 hours to reach by road. This wonderful 1km long lake with an average depth of 50 ft is surrounded by hills. The name Tsomgo means ‘Source of water’. During summer and autumn, you will find Primula flowers and other Alpine vegetation around the lake. The lake becomes frozen and a snowfield during the winter months. There are a number of stalls and shops selling food, drinks and snacks. During the winter, some shops rent jackets and gumboots as well. You can also take a ride on the yaks at Tsomgo Lake. To visit Tsomgo Lake, you need an entire day and you also need to collect the permit from the authorities at Gangtok.
Nathu La and Baba Mandir
Nathu La is a mountain pass that was a part of the old trade route between India and China. Nathula Pass is located at the Indo-Chinese border at an altitude of 14,140 ft. Permits are required to visit the Nathu La which can be obtained from the Gangtok DC office. However, foreign nationals are not allowed to visit the Pass as it is located in the sensitive area near the international border. The Baba Mandir located atop the pass is named after the Sentry Harbhajan Singh, who died here in 1968. The border security personnel here believe that his spirit is still alive and is looking after the army officials posted at the terrain.
National Institute of Tibetology – Deorali
The National Institute of Tibetology or the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology (as it was earlier called) is one of the most important and famous institutes doing research in Tibetan language and culture. The building has one of the finest Tibetan architecture and designs has a museum in its premises and a Tibetan library that has a rich collection of books about Tibet and the Himalayas. The Institute is located at Deorali within a serene ambiance. The most remarkable thing to see here is the majestic image of Manjushri (Bodhisattva of knowledge and wisdom), which was brought here all the way from Tibet.
Tashi View Point
Tashi viewpoint is located about 8 km from Gangtok town. This delightful viewpoint is a perfect place to witness the surrounding mountains and valleys of Gangtok and the town itself. Tashi viewpoint offers the gorgeous view of the sunrise with the snow-clad peaks illuminated with changing colours. On a clear day, you can get an amazing view of the hills and valleys and also a grand sight of Mount Kanchenjunga and Siniolchu. In the opposite mountains, you can view the Phodong and Labrang monasteries. The place is perfect for nature lovers for spending some quiet time amidst the sounds of birds and cool breeze.
Do Drul Chorten
The Do Drul Chorten is considered to be one of the most sacred structures in Sikkim. The huge stupa is situated at Deorali at a short walking distance from the Namgyal Institute of Tibetology. The Chorten was built by the TrulshiRimpoche, head of the Nyingma order of Tibetan Buddhism in 1945. The Stupa is marked by a golden dome that can be seen from various places in Gangtok. The Stupa is surrounded by 108 prayer wheels all of which have Tibetan prayers inscribed on them.
Ban Jhakri Waterfall and Energy Park
Ban Jhakri waterfall is located in a beautifully landscaped park within a forested area some 7 km from Gangtok. The park spread across an area of 2 acres is well manicured with paved pathways and footbridges. The place also has many trees and flowering plants as well. There is also a manmade lake here where you can do boating. The entire park is themed on Shamanic culture and you can see Sikkimese architecture visible all across the park. There are gazebos at several points where you can relax while soaking in the view of the flowing stream that forms at the bottom of the waterfall and the greenery all around. The park uses non-conventional energy sources like the solar energy. Also, there are slides and swings in the park that generate power when used by the children. The 100-foot waterfall is located at the end of the park and is a great site to enjoy.
This wonderful waterfall is located on the North Sikkim Highways towards the Tashi View Point around 3 km from Gangtok. The height of the waterfalls is not much, but the width makes it look beautiful. This is a beautiful place to stop for sometime and click some pictures. There is a rope sliding available here for the adventure enthusiasts. It is a small slide but can be quite thrilling as the droplets of water are sprinkled on you as you slide down the rope. It takes around 20 min to reach the place from Gangtok and the place offers great views of the mountains and a part of the Gangtok city.
Ganesh Tok is located close to Tashi viewpoint and is a temple dedicated to Lord Ganesha. It is located at an altitude of 6,500 ft and at a hill adjacent to that of the huge TV Tower. Like Hanuman Tok, tourists come here not only to offer prayers to Ganesh but also to admire the magnificent views from the viewing lounge and the circular balcony around it. Beside the small temple is the viewing lounge with glass panels. You can see the Gangtok town, rolling hill and the snow-capped mountains including Kanchenjunga.
Himalayan Zoological Park- Bulbuley
Himalayan Zoological Park is the perfect place for wildlife lovers. The Park has been established to preserve the wildlife without disturbing them and keeping them in their natural habitat. The zoological park is located at Bulbuley around 3 km from Gangtok. Situated at an altitude of 1780 m, the park spreads across an area of 205 hectares. Wildlife enthusiasts will find rare and exotic species like Himalayan Red Panda, Snow Leopard Cat, Goral, Himalayan Palm Civet and Himalayan Black Bear. Avian species include birds such as Golden Pheasant, Lady Amherst Pheasant, Silver Pheasant, Satyr Tragopan, Kalij and Crimson-Horned Pheasant.
Hanuman Tok is dedicated to the Hindu God, Lord Hanuman. This beautiful and divine place is located at an altitude of 7200 ft and 11 km from Gangtok town on the road towards another famous attraction, Nathula. The place has a serene atmosphere and offers one of the best views of the Kanchenjunga ranges from Gangtok. Legend has it that Hanuman stopped here for sometime before he flew down to Lanka with Sanjeevani (herb) Mountain from the Himalayas to save Laxman, Lord Rama’s brother. There is also a temple of SirdiSai Baba here just right of Lord Hanuman Temple. Very near to Hanuman Tok, there is the cremation ground of erstwhile Namgyal Royal family of Sikkim. You can see several stupas and chortens there in memory of the royal family.
Ridge Park, White Hall and Flower Exhibition Centre
Ridge Park is a beautiful garden full of Himalayan orchids and shrubs that Sikkim is so famous for. The Ridge is actually a flat road located uphill from the Gangtok town leading to the Palace Gates. It is just fifteen minutes walk from M.G. Marg in Gangtok. Ridge Park has Sikkimese style Gazebos where visitors can sit around and enjoy the ambiance.
The White Hall is a two-storeyed building of British architecture built in 1932 in memory of the first British Political Officer Sir James Claude White. Once a venue of important events of the town, currently, the White Hall is a place of historical importance.
At one end of the Ridge Park is the Flower Exhibition Centre just adjacent to the White Hall. This is the place that draws a large number of visitors during the annual flower exhibition. You will find a number of orchids and flowers all around the year, but the best time to visit the place is during the spring season between April and May. Flower shows are held during this time and flowers from Sikkim as well as other states of India are displayed here. The Government of Sikkim invites participants from the neighboring states also to participate in the annual flower show contest. The Ridge Park is opened from 8:30 AM to 5:00 PM.
Kanchendzonga Tourist Complex
The Kanchendzonga Tourist Complex is a socio-cultural complex having an amusement park and places of accommodation. Located at Ranka between the Ranka Monastery and the Banjhakri Energy Park, the entire complex covers an area of 16 acres. The attractions and entertainment include an indoor swimming pool, bowling alleys, snooker, children’s park, video games, musical fountains, food court, exhibition hall showcasing art & craft, musical instruments and more. You can also visit Ranka Café, a multi-cuisine restaurant, set up in a jungle setting with lots of greenery and artificial animals. The bar is set up on the wings of a mammoth artificial butterfly. It has a nice ambiance. You can also stay here overnight in cottages built in traditional Sikkimese style and deluxe rooms with all hotel facilities. Both mid-range and upscale accommodations are available here.
Saraswati Mandir is located in a quiet and calm location within the city. The temple is quite popular among the students of Sikkim and very rightly located opposite the Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences and Central Referral Hospital on the 31A National Highway.
On the 5th day of ‘Phagun’ of the Nepali calendar which usually falls between January end and February beginning, Saraswati Puja is performed with much devotion and grandeur. The unique feature of this temple is that both the Hindu and Buddhist deities Saraswati and Dolma are placed together and people from both the communities pay respect to both the deities. The temple is thus instrumental in strengthening the social fabric of the local community.
Government Institute for Cottage Industry
The Government Institute of Cottage Industry is located about one kilometer uphill from the main market area of Gangtok. Established in 195, the institute promotes the manufacture and sale of local handicrafts, carpets and furniture. An emporium is present at the institute that sells the various handicrafts that are produced here. The specialty of the institute is a type of hand-carved foldable wooden tables known as Choksees, exquisitely woven woollen carpets, masks and dolls, thangkas and handmade paper made from the bark of Argali tree.
The Institute remains open from 10 AM to 4 PM and is closed on government holidays.
Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary
Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary is a perfect place to witness the variety of wildlife in Sikkim and that too within the reaches of Gangtok. Situated at a distance of 30 km from Gangtok town, the wildlife sanctuary is spread across an area of 51 sq km above the road between Singtam and Dikchu and having an elevation ranging between 1524 to 2749 metres. The place is also the home to a number of species of mammals like the Himalayan black bear, red panda, civet cat (including a rare civet called the binturong or bear-cat). A large number of birds and butterfly species are also found in the sanctuary. You can definitely spot some wildlife on your visit to the sanctuary. Fambong Lho Wildlife Sanctuary is also abundant in orchids and rhododendrons.